Bills back Y2K fix, restrict IRS funding (Part 2)

Conferees on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees' Subcommittees for Treasury Postal and General Government last week agreed on a bill that repealed cooperative purchasing declined to ban games on federal computers and placed tight restrictions on funding associated with the Internal Revenue Service's modernization effort.

While the Treasury-Postal bill has cleared both houses other bills remain in varied stages of completion (see chart). President Clinton last week signed a continuing resolution to keep the government in business through Oct. 23 while Congress continues its work on the bills.

Dashing the hopes of the information technology industry and the General Services Administration of allowing state and local governments to purchase computers from federal multiple-award schedule contracts conferees on the Treasury-Postal measure voted to repeal a section of the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) that would have allowed cooperative purchasing despite a last-minute attempt by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) to provide an exemption for IT.

Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.) last week applauded the repeal of the FASA language asserting that cooperative purchasing "would devastate small businesses across the country.

"Perhaps a select few [small businesses] would be included in [GSA's] purchasing schedules " Faircloth said. "But heaven help the small-business man or woman who must come to Washington D.C. for permission every time he or she wants to sell office supplies to their local city council."

Most representatives from the IT industry said they would support cooperative purchasing and viewed the repeal as a defeat. Olga Grkavac vice president of the Systems Integration Division at the Information Technology Association of America said she was disappointed in the outcome but was not surprised because of the vocal opposition to cooperative purchasing. "We knew it would be an uphill battle " she said.

Davis was also disappointed according to an aide. "I believe he will pursue authorizing a new program on an IT carve-out for cooperative purchasing " the aide said. "We will probably hold hearings on this issue early next year."

The IT industry did score a victory with a decision by conferees to delete Faircloth's amendment which bans games on federal computers. Grkavac said she opposed the amendment because it could have created a burden for industry if companies were required to remove from every computer they sell to the federal government the games that come packaged in off-the-shelf software.

Faircloth who voted against the conference report because the amendment was struck last week vowed to pursue the issue next year with Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. "I look forward to working with Sen. Thompson to ensure that government employees are not wasting taxpayers' dollars playing computer games when they should be working " he said.

The bill also provided $325 million for the IRS' systems modernization with the stipulation that none of the funds can be used to award a contract or to install systems based on the modernization blueprint the agency submitted to Congress in May. The committees will allow the IRS to use the money to develop a request for proposals for the IRS' Prime contract. "The conferees expect that in fiscal year 1998 the modernization program will focus on completing necessary details of the modernization blueprint not the acquisition of new systems " according to the bill.

The conferees also agreed to prohibit the IRS from obligating funds from its technology investments account until Sept. 1 1998. "The General Accounting Office has informed the Committees on Appropriations that the IRS has made a good start in developing its modernization blueprint but must complete and implement this blueprint before building or acquiring new systems " the bill said. "The conferees agree with GAO in this regard." The bill ordered the IRS to submit a status report by April 30 1998 that will include a detailed description of how the IRS has developed business cases and requirements for modernization investments.

In addition the bill provides $165 million for the consolidation of IRS data centers and $8 million for a program office with up to 75 full-time employees to administer and manage the modernization program.

Other appropriations subcommittees took an active interest in IT issues as well. Standards and systems the Navy plans to use for the Information Technology for the 21st Century project gained congressional attention in the 1998 Defense spending bill. The bill requires the Navy to adhere to acquisition regulations in developing IT-21 and to ensure that the solutions and systems meet DOD standards for scalability network management real-time processing and reliability.

In addition the final Defense bill left intact language and funding of $16.5 million for development of the Navy Standard Integrated Personnel System (NSIPS) under development in a Naval Reserve Center in New Orleans home of Rep. Bob Livingston chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. The language also directs DOD management and the Navy to "ensure that no other military personnel system initiative duplicates NSIPS."

Congress has long backed telemedicine programs and the 1998 spending bill calls for the three services to coordinate their activities to prevent duplication and enhance "dual use" of what the bill referred to as "telehealth" programs in public programs outside DOD. The bill also designated the worldwide computerized patient record part of the Composite Health Care System as "a necessary component of telehealth."

In other appropriations bills:

* The Senate chose to fully fund the Federal Aviation Administration's Wide-Area Augmentation System (WAAS) at $153 million. But it insisted on withholding funding until the secretary of Transportation reports to the Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on the status and management of the program. WAAS has been criticized in the past for being over budget and behind schedule.

The House recommended $114 million for WAAS - $38 million below the administration's request. The committee said in its report that it is "disturbed" to learn of probable cost growth as well as uncertain technical requirements.

* The House and Senate respectively recommended $107 million and $108 million for continued development of the FAA's Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System. The figures are in line with the president's request.

* The House and the Senate recommended $116.9 million - the full amount requested - for the National Weather Service's Automated Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) the cornerstone of the NWS' modernization efforts.

* The Senate recommended $241 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) program while the House recommended $215 million. A statement from the Office of Management and Budget said the Clinton administration is "deeply concerned" about the House committee's $22 million reduction.

"It is imperative that NOAA have sufficient funding to award the contract for the follow-on series of GOES satellites " according to the statement.

* The House and the Senate recommended more than the requested $354 million to conduct the 2000 census which includes deploying new systems. The House recommended $381 million and the Senate recommended $354.8 million.

* Both houses of Congress recommended fulfilling the Justice Department's request of $84 million for the development of an integrated automated fingerprint identification system. Conferees are scheduled to meet to discuss DOJ appropriations this week.

* Both houses recommended spending more than $30 million on the Interior Department's Automated Land and Mineral Records System in line with the president's request of nearly $34 million. The system which has been undergoing modernization since 1993 is deemed crucial to the management of oil mineral and gas leases on millions of acres of federal land and is also used to track federal timber and land sales. Conferees have not yet met on Interior appropriations.

* Lawmakers gave the Energy Department $224.8 million for its Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative a project to increase computing power by 1 000 times by 2004 in order to simulate testing of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile. The $20 million increase for the program was more than the Clinton administration requested. The Energy spending bill is awaiting the president's signature.

- FCW staff contributed to this report.

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